A 1974 diplomatic cable, released by Wikileaks Monday, points to the enormous respect and attention Margaret Thatcher drew both in and outside of her party and from the press, even before she became leader of Britain's Conservative Party.
But the U.S. diplomat who authored the cable (not identified by Wikileaks) also revealed the sexism of the era, writing that although Thatcher was considered "the best man" in the Conservative Party, some of her colleagues might not accept a female leader.
In the cable, entitled "A Thatcher Hat in the Ring?", the diplomat wrote:
THE POSSIBILITY OF MRS. THATCHER AS CONSERVATIVE LEADER IS NOT AT ALL UNATTRACTIVE TO MANY. BOTH WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THE PARTY, SHE IS FREQUENTLY CONSIDERED "THE BEST MAN" IN THE PARTY. SHE HAS BEEN IMPRESSIVE IN DEBATE ON THE BUDGET AS WELL AS DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. SHE IS GENERALLY CONSIDERED BRIGHT, INTELLIGENT, AND HARD-WORKING. WHILE SOME CONSERVATIVES MIGHT HAVE DIFFICULTY IN ACCEPTING A WOMAN AS THE PARTY LEADER, NO ONE DOUBTS HER ABILITIES. SHE IS GENERALLY THOUGHT TO HAVE A GOOD POLITICAL SENSE AND, IF IN FACT SHE IS GENUINELY INTERESTED IN BECOMING LEADER, SHE PROBABLY BELIEVES SHE COMMANDS ENOUGH SUPPORT IN THE PARTY TO BE ELECTED.
The diplomat also relayed the media furor surrounding her possible candidacy, noting that the media "continue[d] to devote considerable attention" to it and at times seemed "to be trying to fan flames from sparks" on whether Thatcher would stand as candidate. The diplomat seemed to doubt whether Thatcher would run, saying that press reports on her candidacy might be premature or the "speculative result of industrial journalist[s]," and "must be viewed somewhat skeptically." Thatcher became party leader three months after the cable was written.
In later years, President Ronald Reagan referred to Thatcher, a political ally, as "the best man in England."